Linocut Inspiration

Linoleum was invented in the early 1860s and first used for printing in 1890 in Germany for the manufacture of wallpaper. By the early 20th century it had been popularized for artists’ prints. Linocut gained particular favour in poorer cultures that were less inhibited by a tradition of fine printing. In revolutionary Russia important linocuts were produced from about 1918. In Canada in the 1920s and 1930s the linocut was more common than the woodcut.

Linocut artists have been influenced by earlier woodcut traditions, including Japanese woodcut traditions and and also geometric forms and abstraction from African and Oceanic art. Linocut artists like the Grosvenor School and Lyubov Popova (see below) have also been influence by major art movements of the twentieth century, particularly cubism, futurism and constructivism. The possibility for dynamic mark-making and bold shapes with simplified colour make lino very well suited for this type of design.

Linocut artists used many of the techniques earlier developed for woodcut – both markmaking and use of tone and structure. But they also developed new directions with Picasso’s use of the reduction linocut (that can also be done with any other surface like wood). Linocut artists became particularly interested in dynamic shapes and use of colour influenced by Futurism.

Later prejudice grew up against linoleum block printing, as suitable only for children, amateurs and the uncultured. The linocut’s popularity also fell with the rise of commercial collaboration between printmaker and publisher, which encouraged more technically complex media.

But recently there has been a resurgence of interest in linocut as an art form. It is a key part of the many printmaking courses as an easier introduction to relief printing than woodcut. It has therefore become widely used for things like greetings cards. But there are also contemporary linocut artists doing innovative work – including very large pieces that exploit its potential for being cut into smaller blocks and because of its relatively light weight. There has been development of a wide range surface etching and texturing techniques using different tools.

Nineteenth and twentieth centuries

Franz Ciceck

An Austrian artist and teacher popularised the material for artists’ prints. He recognised the medium’s potential to instruct children in colour and design: it was cheap, easily worked with simple tools, adaptable to water-based inks, and versatile. Cižek toured Europe and North America with examples by his pupils and influenced art education worldwide.

German Expressionists  1905-1920s

The first major artist to adopt linocut as a medium was Erich Heckel, and his earliest linocut is dated 1903. In his Frog Queen (1905) linoleum’s lack of grain bias is evident in the perpendicular clusters of gouge strokes.

Artists from Die Brucke regularly used linocut instead of woodcut from 1905 to 1920s. These focused on bold shapes and expressive distortion in monochrome prints. The use of lino was ideal for this, although the fine lines and use of woodgrain etxture in some of the woodcuts was not possible.

Click here for overview of German Expressionist woodcuts

Google images for Expressionist linocuts

Google images for Erich Heckel linocuts

This German Expressionist tradition has been continued by modern artists like Georg Baselitz who produces very large linocuts and combination prints often on subjects of political protest.

Click here for overview of the work of Georg Baselitz


Matisse executed 70 linocuts between 1938 and 1952. These are similar in both style and subject matter to his black and white monoprints of figures. They are executed on lino in a fluent white-line technique, taking evident advantage of the smooth passage of the knife through the soft material and the variation in expressive line that can be achieved.

Click here for overview of Matisse’s work as printmaker and artist

Click here for Google images of Matisse linocuts


Picasso used linoleum for popular posters in the early 1950s. In 1959 he began a series of innovative colour linocuts, developing the reduction print technique. He developed a method of printing in different colours progressive states cut on a single block, so that the finished print comprises layered impressions of all the states.

Click here for overview of Picasso’s work as printmaker and artist

Click here for Google images of Picasso linocuts

Lyubov’ Popova

Lyubov Popova was a Russian avant-garde and ‘new woman’ artist (Cubist, Suprematist and Constructivist) painter and designer. She produced a number of linocuts in constructivist style.

Click here of overview of Popova’s work

Click here for Google images of Popova’s linocuts

Grosvenor School

Gaudier Brzewska

Edward Wadsworth

Claude Flight (1881–1955)

The most important British advocate of the linocut. He taught linocut from 1925 at the Grosvenor School of Modern Art in London and emphasized its accessibility to the proletariat. His images are very dynamic with strong curvature distortion.

Click here for overview of Flight’s work

Click here for Google images of Flight’s linocuts

Sybil Andrews

Click here for overview of Andrews’ work

Click here for Google images of Andrews’ linocuts

Lil Tschudi

Click here for overview of Tschudi’s work

Click here for Google images of Tschudi’s linocuts

Cyril Power

Click here for overview of Power’s work

Click here for Google images of Power’s linocuts

The work of the Grosvenor School has also influenced some contemporary linocut artists like the Canadian Gary Ratushniak who was trained by Sybil Andrews draws also on native America traditions.

Click here for overview of work of Gary Ratushniak

Click here for Google images of Ratushniak’s linocuts

Edward Bawden

Edward Bawden is another English artist and illustrator who often worked in watercolour, but also produced many linocuts. His work is more figurative and many of his paintings are from his experience as war artist in the Second World War.

Click here for overview of Bawden’s work

Click here for Google images of Bawden’s linocuts

US Civil Rights Movement

Linocuts were very popular as effective and cheap media for mass communication by African American artists involved in the American Civil Rights movement. Influenced by both African and Mexican art they depicted images of racial and sexual issues. Key proponents were:

Margaret Borroughs

Elizabeth Catlett

Contemporary linocut

Some of the sources I have looked at (in alphabetical order). For images and more detailed discussion see Logbook 2: Linocut at page references given below.

Richard Bosman

Emma Bradford

Helen Brown

Lynda Burke

Borge Carlson

Angela Cavaglieri

Katarzyna Cyganic

Otto Feil

Jess Freeman

Christine Koch

Rudolf Koch

Hans Larsen

Albert Masri

Ladislav Rusek

Linocut techniques

Geisha Punk

(to be developed further as part of Project 3.1 on chiaroscuro)

I used linocut for:

Project 1.3 landscape composition

I also experimented with a range of techniques in Printmaking 1:

Type of relief print in which the artist cuts the design into linoleum as the printing surface, using gouges and knives.

Linocuts resemble woodcuts, although the softness and lack of grain of linoleum, which permit the artist to cut fluently in every direction, deprive cuts of the vigour and bias often seen in woodcuts. As fine networks of printing lines tend to crumble in linoleum, broader effects are usually sought. As the surface of linoleum is smooth, unless specially treated, it will not print with a texture that is visible in some woodcuts. The slickness of linoleum can produce a distinctive curdled effect in broadly inked areas, as seen in the Frog Queen (1905) by Erich Heckel; in this print linoleum’s lack of grain bias is evident.

Types of lino

Linoleum is a man-made sheet flooring composed primarily of oxidized linseed oil and ground cork. Battleship linoleum, a variety c. 6 mm thick, is frequently recommended, as is Desk-top, a thinner sheet. With the advent of synthetic floorings, linoleum became less easily available. In the late 20th century it was no longer produced in the USA but was manufactured in Scotland and commonly sold only in artists’ shops. For printmaking, linoleum may be mounted on to plywood, to produce a block that can be printed mechanically.

Type-high linoleum blocks can easily be printed with type and have been used in book illustration. Because sheet linoleum weighs relatively little and can be printed by hand, it has been used for exceptionally large printed images. Because linocuts are so easily printed by hand, they have been favoured by many artists who personally produce very small editions, although mechanically printed editions of as many as 25,000 are reported (Yeaton, p. 21). Since linoleum lends itself to broad effects, it is particularly adapted to multicolour printing, usually with a separate block for each colour.

The image

Choosing an image

The important thing here is to pay attention to design – strong tones, simple shapes, patterns and textures.

See Design elements and principles

Masks can be used over portions of the image, parts of the image can be hand-coloured. Blocks can also be rotated in different colours or tones to make abstract images.

Planning the image

It is likely that any sketch will need to be adjusted or simplified to make a good linocut image. To simplify the shapes, adjust the edges and clarify the movement of the eye though the image. It is very useful to do Notan structure drawings to check the underlying tonal structure and dominant shapes.

Images can be constructed through positive and/or negative shapes. Linocuts can be mostly cut away to leave lines on paper background, or mostly the colour of the ink. Or a combination of the two. It is worth experimenting with reversing the tonal values to explore different interpretations of an image.

Lino is a direct printing process so the image will be reversed when printed. It is useful to check the design through using a mirror.

This can be done using white chalk on black paper, experimenting with different marks to simulate linocut marks. Black and white collage can also be useful.

It is particularly useful to do this digitally using a programme on the iPad like Procreate. This enables you to design specific brushes that mimic linocut tools and freely and quickly experiment with different versions, interpretations and colours of a design.

Transferring the image onto the lino

Tracing paper or a lightbox can be used to help reverse the image.

This can be done using tracing paper and a soft pencil, or carbon paper. Or simply drawing on.

It is useful also to go over the black areas with pencil or inl and brush so that the cuts will be clearly seen.

Cutting the lino

Cut marks are part of the identity of a linocut. These can give a sense of movement and life. They can also give a wide variety of textural contrast. Sometimes a clean area with no cut marks is required.

Cut along the surface of the lino – you don’t need top cut deep. Even pressure can create a smooth line.

Varying the pressure and angle of the tool and/or speed of cutting gives a more varied and expressive line.

If using a large lino block, or cutting away large areas, it is best to mount the lino on a solid surface like hardboard with glue. This will keep the plate rigid through repeated use. This is particularly important in reduction or combination prints.


Veining tool: to cut an outline around the largest shapes so that they are easier to cut out. And for the finest lines and smallest areas.

Gouge: has a rounded blade that cuts into the lino first and leaves a round end to each cut.  The gouge can be pushed into the lino and make a long smooth stroke. Short stabbed cuts can also be made as textural marks. Rough-edged marks by rocking from side to side. They come in a range of different widths and vary from shallow C-shapes to deep U-shapes.

V-tools: have a triangular blade that will leave a neat v-shaped cut. Longer cuts can be made and then tapered by reducing the pressure on the blade as it reaches the end of the groove. Short stabbed cuts will be triangular in appearance. A square end to the cut can be made by suddenly stopping the movement and levering the lino shard away from the block. They come in a range of different widths.

Blades: Angled and flat-end blades are designed for cutting a line around a shape before using a gouge to make the edge sharp, particularly if you want this to make a corner or a point. They can also be used to remove the top edge of the scoop marks or the ridges of cut marks if a clean area is required.

Scoops: ?? not quite worked out what to do with these.


  • Use a bench hook and steady the image, cut away from you. Turn the lino if you need to change direction.
  • Warm the lino to make cutting easier and prevent strain. This is easily done with a hairdryer or on a radiator.
  • Keep plasters handy in case of slips.


It is useful to check the image as you go along by lying a thin piece of paper over the lino and using pencil or a graphite stick. This helps avoid over-cutting and better judgement of shapes. At a later stage it is useful to do proof prints.

Printing the image

Inking the plate

Use relief inks – water-based or oil-based. Relief inks are stiffer than etching inks.

Mix the ink into the colour you want with a palette knife. Use thinner ink if you have a lot of fine cuts.

Use a hard roller to get sharp outlines. A softer roller will go slightly inside the cuts and give a softer image. Ideally the width of the roller should be bigger than the block. Use a small roller to go over finer areas if necessary – check the corners and edges in particular.

You need an even coating of ink that is not thick or lumpy. The ink on the roller should look like fine suede and make a very gentle swish when rolling out. There should be no spots or marks in the ink because these will be transferred to the block, and probably to the paper. It is much better to apply several layers of thin ink than one thick layer – ink that is too thick may ooze down into the cut marks and loss of detail will occur.

You can re-ink the lino several times for the same colour, or to mix colours.


Relief prints are usually printed onto smooth dry paper, but can be printed on dampened paper.

Thinner more sensitive papers can be used, particularly if printing by hand.


Registration enables you to print an edition with every print being positioned in the same place on each sheet of paper. It also enables you to over print a new layer of colour over a previous print.

Registration methods include:

  • drawing frames of two sizes on a large sheet of paper – a smaller one for the block and a larger one to position the paper
  • putting tape supports or marks at one or more corners on the bed of the printing press for the block and paper eg marks for the block and tape supports for the paper (my preferred method)
  • mounting the block on a hard board that is the size of the paper.
  • using a thick cardboard jig the same height as the surface of the lino and the same size as the paper, with a hole for the lino plate cut out in the appropriate position. Or a simple L-shape can be used.

In all these cases the top left hand corner of the back of the paper should be marked to ensure it is placed the right way up.


The linocut can  be printed in a simple screw or lever press or by hand, by rubbing the paper against the inked block with a spoon, rolling pin or baren (a slightly concave disc sheathed in bamboo), or by laying the inked linoleum on to the paper and hammering the back of the block. These hand-printing methods can also be used to print on to textiles, or the inked block can be turned on to fabric stretched on the floor and trodden on by the printer. Hand printing can give a more sensitive image.

If using a printing press, the paper can be put on top of the block if you want some embossing. Also if you want to selectively dampen the paper to give texture to the inking. If you want easy registration by eye then put the paper down first and place the block on top.

If corners have been cut back, or to avoid ridge marks at the edges of the lino block on the paper, use lino runners along the edge to stop the rollers sinking onto the paper.

Editioning (single colour or multi-block)

Number the prints in the order you take them. Marked Print No/Total prints.

The edition is only true if the block or blocks remain true without any additional cutting during the print run. It is usual to print all pages of the first colour together, then the next etc. (But not if you are changing the colours of ink on the blocks). The first print is labelled the artist’s proof.

Multiblock Linocuts

A multi-block linoprint is where each colour is printed from a separate lino block, cut to match the original design.

To begin you need to create a design that can be printed in two or more colours (often 3 colours is good). Again simplicity of shapes is key. In some cases a black registration block is used containing the finished design to help cut the different layers and also unify the image at the end.

When you have drawn your design outlines and solid dark areas you can colour in areas of your design with pens.

Printing is generally done light to dark, using light colours for the largest areas on the least-cut block. This enables layering of colours to produce a range of different tones and hues as the inks mix and overlay each other.

Block 1: lightest with only the areas that will remain white cut out. This image then needs to be transferred from the paper to Block 2 while the ink is still wet.

Block 2: darker colours with colour of block 1 cut out. This image then needs to be transferred from the paper to Block 3 etc if more colour blocks are used while the ink is still wet.

Blocks 3+ and so on.

Registration block goes last.


Reduction Linocut (also known as ‘suicide print’)

A technique that creates a multiple colour print from one block.

First prepare a coloured design and transfer it to the block as in other methods. It is useful to have a master tracing to work from as successive layers will disappear. Colouring areas to be retained helps prevent mistakes.

The first cuts are the colour of the paper to be printed on. The surface is then reduced for each successive colour, usually working from the lightest to the darkest. Remember ‘CUT TO SAVE’ previous colour. Some cuts can also be masked if you make a mistake.

As you cannot go back, a batch of prints large enough for the print run should be done at each stage.

Reduction prints are usually printed in opaque inks as you want each successive colour to sit on top of the previous layer (is this true?? Or do you want mixing???)

Richard Bosman

Richard Bosman (B 1944) is an Australian artist and printmaker who has produced woodcuts and linocuts since 1980s.

Google images for Richard Bosman linocut


Many of his paintings and prints are concerned with tragedies in dark urban settings, on rough seas, and in eerily quiet woods.  They have been influenced by expressionist printmakers like Edvard Munch and Emil Nolde. Also Japanese printmakers like Hokusai.

Some of his work is very experimental. He printed Smokers (1982) with his wife in an edition of two rolls of paper towels.

Born in India, raised in Australia, and the son of a merchant sea captain, Bosman has repeatedly returned to the setting of the sea. In an exhibition “Death and the Sea” at Owen James Gallery he depicts different aspects of the South Pacific sea: volcanoes, moonlit voyages and farewells, small rowboats fighting gigantic waves – “mankind is fickle, life is fleeting, and that the ocean remains unconcerned with our plight”.
“There is a cinematic beauty to these works by Bosman.  We sometimes feel as though we are looking at a film strip stopped in time, somewhere between cause and horrible effect.  Works such as Volcano and Fog Bank are subtle in their ability to show the progress of time, but there are visual gaps in it, and it is in these gaps that much of the intrigue lies.  In Night Sky the effect is almost imperceptible.  Here, only the stars move, and in this movement we find we are disoriented. Both South Seas Kiss and Mutiny share the short-lived joy of shore-leave, as a captain is first enraptured by an island girl only to meet his demise once he turns his back.”



Angela Cavalieri

Angela Cavalieri produces very large art linocuts based on text and visual storytelling. These have a very dynamic rhythm with swirls of words and architectural forms.

Angela Cavalieri’s website:

Google for her large linocut prints

Angela Cavalieri: large scale linocut printmaking process for Guerra e Amore


Guerra e Amore is based on music of Claudio Monteverde and the architectural drawings and prints of Giovanni Battista Piranesi

She does extensive visual research to develop the basic concept.

She then works directly on the linocut  –  for Guerra e Amore she spent 2 months drawing, cutting and redrawing using ink, charcoal and chalk. Text has to be back to front and has to be drawn and redrawn many times to get the overall effect.

She then cuts the large block into different coloured block pieces and draws on registration marks on a large under-paper.

She handprints onto rolled canvas. Needs assistance eg 7 people for printing. Issues in consistent inking – takes about an hour and has to be done before dries out. Burnishes and hand prints. The whole process takes takes about 6 hours.

Touches up a bit with a hand brush. Paints in background with oil paint. Then hangs.

Gary Ratushniak

Gary Ratushniak on the Art of Linocut


Gary Ratushniak’s Printmaking Influences


A Canadian printmaker who produces linocuts inspired by Native American art and Sybil Andrews of the UK Grosvenor school.

He introduces tone in his linocuts by selectively wiping off the ink.

Ladislav Rusek

From Idbury Prints. No details given For analysis on printouts see Logbook 2.

Uses a lot of thin lines and colour reversals around a shape. Difficult?

Nude with flower 1969

untitled(icarus) 1969

untitled boat 1969

untitled ex libris 1967

untitled figure 1965

untitled lillies

Neujahrswünsche 1967, 1969

Neujahrswünsche 1968, 1968

More linocuts

Linocut 1

Linocut 2

Linocut 3

Linocut 4

Linocut 5

Linocut 6

Linocut 7

Linocut 8